The Warsaw Summit: Towards NATO 3.0

The NATO summit in Warsaw will be a historic one. On July 8th and 9th, for the first time since the 2014 Wales summit, leaders of the 28 member states convened to discuss the current security situation and the strategic plans of NATO. The Wales summit back in 2014 convened a few months after Russia’s aggression towards the Ukraine. Fast forward two years and the NATO alliance is dealing with a more complex and dynamic security situation on its southern and eastern flanks. During the upcoming summit, leaders will be faced with historically unprecedented manifold of challenges. After having dealt with challenges during its creation and the security situation after the Cold War, NATO, as the world’s preeminent security alliance, is again at a strategic turning point. Warsaw will not be just another summit; the alliance is working towards a NATO 3.0.

The Warsaw summit will focus on three main issues: political adaptation of NATO members, deterrence efforts of the alliance and institutional adaptation of NATO, and the defense and security bodies in member states. Four challenges will dominate the Warsaw summit’s political agenda: relations with Russia, the refugee crisis and NATO’s relationship to the EU (most notably the EU naval mission Sophia in the Mediterranean Sea), ISIL and the volatile security situation on the southern flank, and assistance to Libya.  Whether or not these challenges can be met at the Warsaw summit depends on whether the alliance has sufficient institutional capacity and political will to deal with and counter these challenges.

In terms of political adaptation, NATO leaders will have to discuss international efforts to project stability and security both on its southern and eastern flanks. A large chunk of the agenda will be dedicated to the question on how to deal with Moscow, and what relationship NATO wants to have with its Eastern neighbors. After Russian military aggression towards the Ukraine, NATO suspended the regular meetings of the NATO-Russia Council in April 2014. In April of this year the alliance agreed to a meeting in order to maintain an open dialogue and will have another meeting after the summit. NATO Deputy Secretary General Vershbow noted that “NATO will continue to engage with Russia. We need to make sure that where our forces come into close contact, misunderstanding does not lead to an incident that could spiral out of control.” However, questions remain on how future relations between the parties will take form. Additionally, the alliance needs to invest in developing a more strategic and coherent approach towards the different regional partnerships. One way could be to help partners improve defense and security capabilities, including expanding the NATO Defense and Related Security Capacity Building Initiative. Facing threats on NATO’s southern borders, the alliance must enhance maritime partnerships with the countries in the Mediterranean. For example, NATO needs to be prepared when Tripoli asks for help, or if other countries in the region seek assistance. Libya has been promised help, albeit in a favorable political situation. The alliance needs to be prepared when the Libyan situation possibly changes. It is interesting to note that Afghanistan has dropped off the agenda in terms of importance. In Warsaw, Afghanistan will not be a separate agenda item anymore, it will fall under defense capability building, meaning NATO will limit its role to providing assistance to the Afghan authorities.

For NATO’s efforts on matters of deterrence, it is crucial for the alliance to enhance its ‘forward presence’. It is crucial for member states to agree on the need for high-end capabilities (especially land maneuver formations) in their capability development package; however, no new package is expected. NATO’s toolbox currently only partially responds to challenges due to its traditional military nature. There is a clear need for creative and innovative initiatives. The Readiness Action Plan (RAP) was conceived at the Wales summit in order to prepare NATO forces for rapid responses to emerging security challenges. This summit will assess the progress that has been made in setting up the spearhead force, the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), created during the Wales summit in order to speed up deployment of NATO forces in case of a rapid eruption of hostilities against a member. Leaders at the Warsaw summit will most likely determine that measures agreed upon in Wales have been implemented; however, there is no clear consensus in the alliance on this matter. Sam Jones at the Financial Times recently quoted two senior NATO generals saying the spearhead force is too vulnerable to be deployed on the Eastern flank, and that it would be at risk of being overrun before it would even be ready to deploy. NATO needs to find an answer to credible defense that is in line with the defensive nature of the alliance. NATO members also need to look at political dimensions of threats and reconfirm the dual track approach, military deterrence and political dialogue. Moreover, in Wales, member states re-stated their 2% defense spending pledge. Many European NATO members are still underspending on defense, but have understood that they have to spend more on resources and capabilities. Warsaw will be a moment to reflect on the progress that has been made, but also a time to be critical as to what still needs to be done and improved.

For institutional adaptation, NATO-EU relations will take center stage. NATO was created as a military alliance, but many of the current security issues – such as the refugee crisis, terrorism, and hybrid threats – mix traditional geopolitics with civilian security issues. NATO’s role, as a pure military alliance, is supportive and complementary, but it cannot on these issues. The EU, often typified as being a ‘soft power’ with no real ‘hard power’ tools, has a large set of policy tools and is an important partner for the region.  There is still no internal consensus on many issues, and many nations do not yet know what role NATO should play in internal security matters. Neither NATO nor the EU can tackle major challenges alone; therefore, it is time to take cooperation between these organizations seriously. From Brussel’s point of view, with the presentation of the EU Global Strategy on foreign and security policy, a meaningful connection has been made. The command structure that was set up in 2010 dealt with projection of power outside NATO’s borders, but now has to be able to be active in multiple theaters and in response to multidimensional threats. This goes hand in hand with improving strategic communications between members, between NATO and its members, and between NATO and EU.

Above all else, NATO must present itself to the world as a united front. It is also important that NATO demonstrate that what was agreed and promised in Wales two years ago has been implemented. There are, however, more specific issues that leaders and officials will also have to discuss; these include hybrid warfare, proliferation of WMD, space, missile defense, cyber security, Artic security (still a grey zone for NATO) and the discussion surrounding the nuclear option. Warsaw will present a watershed moment for the future of the alliance as well as an opportunity for its members to deal with the presented security threats.



Karlijn Jans specializes in defense and German politics. She received an LL.M in European Law from Maastricht University and MA in European Studies from King’s College London. Karlijn is a part-time modular student at the Netherlands Defence Academy and chairs the Netherlands Atlantic Youth Association. She is also a Europe Fellow at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.

Image Credit: Utenriksdepartementet UD/Flickr

Charged Affairs is a publication of Young Professionals in Foreign Policy, a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Views of the authors do not necessarily represent the views of the organization. All rights reserved.

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  • David Anderson

    The Summit now concluded, it is interesting to see the final agreements, wrangled over in the weeks and months leading up to the summit. NATO is in a position now where it is refocusing on its traditional task of collective defense through the use of heavy land forces through the multinational battlegroups in the Baltics and Poland (backed up by the increased American presence) as well as measures in the South East along the Black Sea. It has to balance this, however, against the more nebulous kinds of threats that are emerging…hybrid warfar and cyber…because they are difficult to clearly attribute and because they slide under the rubric for triggering defense treaties, are a challenge. The Pledges to both Enhance Resiliance and increase Cyber defense are a move in that direction. These are meant to address the internal security of Allies, but you mention…seeking security by projecting NATO influence and capabilities into places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Mediterranean and South…are another aspect. I am as confused as you that the North (Arctic) hasn’t been incorporated into the rhetorical 360 degrees of security, though Iceland and Norway are making the case.

  • Werner


    Author Reply

    Great article, outlines the main strategic issues that were discussed at the Summit. The decision to increase the importance of cyber is perhaps the one I welcome most, with cyberspace being recognized as a fourth domain of operations. Albeit expected, it still is significant due to the Cyber Defence Pledge, as well as the increased partnership with industry. This is where I believe NATO has much to offer. It has the resources, and due to the dual-use aspects of this capability, is somewhere where EU – NATO cooperation could flourish, if they manage to put aside that inherent distrust in sharing anything beyond political strategic objectives. It will be interesting to see whether the fast-paced nature of cyber development can be effectively and efficiently harnassed by NATO – a true challenge for an organization wrestling with its post-Cold-War identity and oftentimes outdated/slow procedures…

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